Review of Little Shoes: The Sensational Depression-Era Murders That Became My Family Secret written by Pamela Everett
A statement often repeated from death-penalty proponents is that while the criminal justice system has its faults there has never been an execution of an innocent man. Considering that over 150 people on death row have subsequently been exonerated, it’s a little hard to give any credence to the idea that no one has ever slipped through the cracks. This book tells a compelling story of just such a case.
At the center of this story is the search for the killer of three young girls: Melba Marie Everett age nine and her sister Madeline age seven and Jeanette Stephens age eight. The two Everett girls were the sisters of author Pamela Everett’s father. They were the aunts the author never got to meet. Pamela Everett is also an attorney who works with the California Innocence Project. The author delved into the killings to learn more about their murders and the man convicted of the crime. What she uncovered was a faulty investigation where a likely innocent man was convicted and executed.
The murders happened in the summer of 1937. The author uses interviews, newspaper accounts, and trial transcripts to reconstruct the initial investigation and subsequent trial, while also providing background on the time period and her own family. The police zero in on several suspects. When they bring in suspect Albert Dyer, a mentally-challenged man working as a school crossing guard, they get a full confession. Case closed.
There is no evidence linking Albert to the crime except for several witnesses who claim to have seen Albert in the park the day the girls disappeared. Other witnesses identify a different person seen with the girls. That person had some distinctive characteristics that don’t match Albert. The other man was also seen with the three little girls in the back of his car. Albert didn’t own a car.
Albert withdraws his confession. He didn’t do it. Then he confesses again. Albert is a perfect candidate for someone vulnerable to falsely confess. He doesn’t get the details right. He tells his court-appointed lawyer that he’s hoping for probation.
Albert’s ever-changing story leads to the topic of false confessions. While there have been many efforts to reduce the risk of false confessions. They still happen on a regular basis. Just look at Branden Dassey of Making a Murderer fame. He’s still in prison even though his false confession was videotaped. It’s all there. Police feeding him details. A lack of corroborating evidence. Him telling his mom that they got to his head. His videotaped confession is used to teach others about false confessions, yet four judges on the Wisconsin Supreme Court overruled a lower court’s order to have the conviction thrown out. Perhaps those four judges should read this book. Maybe they’ll gain some insight into how false confessions occur.